How much fun can two day-trippers have for under $100?
Editor’s note: Got college loans to pay? Are Seattle rents pinching your pocketbook? This new recurring feature, $99 Road Trip, is for anyone on a budget. We’ve taken a day trip from Seattle to see just how much fun two people can have for less than a hundred bucks.
LANGLEY, Whidbey Island — There’s something cosmically cool about a little town whose waterfront features a big bronze bell that anybody is encouraged to ring if they spot a passing whale.
It’s a town of street art. The sculpted boy with his dog gazing wistfully out from a water-view railing is a classic (by Whidbey resident Georgia Gerber, who sculpted the Pike Place Market pig), though the giant crow sculptures nearby have a sort of scary-clown quality.
The burg’s biggest business is a have-it-all grocery/mercantile known simply as The Star Store. There are art galleries, bookstores for browsing, cozy cafés and several opportunities to warm your cockles on a cool day tasting locally made wine and beer.
A friendly little information center is dedicated to those whales. And you get a scenic ferry ride, to boot.
On $99, including gas, sales tax and ferry fare for two, we did it all in a day.
For just another buck
If we’d shown up a century or so earlier, I told my wife, we could have bought the whole place.
In 1881, ambitious German immigrant Jacob Anthes at age 16 purchased 120 acres for $100 and began building on the site that would become Langley. The name came from a Seattle judge, J.W. Langley, who headed up a development firm Anthes later helped organize.
Near the south end of Whidbey Island, the town looks out over the saltwater of Saratoga Passage with bliss-inducing views of Camano Island and the Cascades.
Gray whales cruise these waters for shrimp March to May. The occasional orca pod wanders through in fall and winter. We decided to learn more with a pilgrimage to the Langley Whale Center, which opened in expanded quarters in November (115 Anthes Ave., bit.ly/1IQFtr5, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Sunday).
There we looked over a photo chart showing how to identify members of J Pod, of the endangered southern-resident orca population. The shape of dorsal fins and varying white markings distinguish the 84 whales, including eight born in the past year.
“We just had a new one — well, we all feel like we had it!” said Jill Hein, one of the leaders of the nonprofit Orca Network, which runs the center.
A blizzard of sticky notes marks a wall map of local waters, noting recent whale sightings (“11/12/15, Whale blow near Useless Bay”) and lending a Melville-ian air, though these folks hunt only with cameras. The latest news: “We’re getting more humpbacks in the area!” Hein said. “It’s exciting — they breach a lot!”
The cost? Whatever you drop in the donation jar or spend at the gift shop.
The Star Store, whose grocery section carries more Essential Baking Co. breads than I’ve ever seen in a Seattle supermarket, drew us in with its snazzy housewares, such as interesting wineglasses in angular shapes.
Having burst the seams of their main store (201 First St.; starstorewhidbey.com), there’s an annex, Star Store Basics (199 Second St.), with an opulent selection of teapots and teas, including a “Downton Abbey” collection (such as Lady Cora’s Evening Tea).
Shopping for gifts, we picked up an elegant pear-shaped candle ($6.95 + tax = $7.56) and (surely you must buy something starry at the Star Store) a starfish-shaped soap ($4.95 + tax = $5.38).
Our running total so far for this on-a-budget outing: $21.85 round trip on Washington State Ferries, plus $12.94 for gifts = $34.79.
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Planning a late lunch, we stopped in first for a tasting when Ott & Murphy Wines’ tasting room opened at 1 p.m. atop the water-view bluff. (Kept an eye peeled for whale spouts; never got to ring the bell.)
Unless you buy two bottles, the tasting fee for five 2-ounce pours is $10 (plus tax = $10.87), but they don’t mind two people sharing.
Founders David Ott and Eric Murphy bottled their first commercial vintage in 2007 and make about 1,000 cases a year from grapes from the far side of the Cascades. I liked the white wine called Possession, named for the sound just beyond Saratoga Passage, which blends viognier, Grenache blanc and roussanne grapes.
“I tell my clients that’s the Goldilocks wine: not too dry, not too sweet, just very pleasing to many palates,” said pourer Govinda Rosling (204 First St., ottmurphywines.com).
Connecting back to Second Street, a path led us between shops and past more public art as well as a garden area with Tonka trucks to entertain tots. At 121 Second, we found the inviting, false-fronted home of Useless Bay Coffee Co., which serves breakfast and lunch as well as caffeinating laid-back Langleyites (uselessbaycoffee.com).
The lunch special suited us (half a ham-and-cheddar panini and a cup of minestrone or chicken tortilla soup) as we admired the old-fashioned tooled-tin ceiling tiles inside ($6.75 each + tax = $14.68).
Need to wash that down? Half a block’s stroll around a corner and into McLeod Alley gets you to the little red building housing Langley’s first and only craft brewery, Double Bluff Brewing, which opened in October.
Ask for a tasting flight created by Swiss-born Daniel Thomis, a 20-year home brewer and former biochemist who moved to Whidbey from Boston just over a year ago. Again, the four 5-ounce pours are easily shared (your designated driver may sip lightly). The tab:$8 + tax = $8.70.
The brewer’s favorite? “It’s my scotch ale right now,” Thomis told me. “It has a really nice smoky, caramel flavor — nice flavors for this time of year” (112 Anthes Ave.; dblfbrewing.com).
Back on Second Street, stop in for dessert at Sweet Mona’s Chocolate Boutique (motto: “We sweeten the world!”) and get something to take home from the case crowded with cacao-rich indulgences (221 Second St., sweetmonas.com). I picked out a Black Cat, filled with dark chocolate ganache, and a lime chili truffle (which packed an ear-wagging wallop). My spouse chose a chocolate-dipped macaroon along with a caraque, a disk of dark chocolate topped by a pecan, orange peel and candied violets (together: $8.50 + tax = $9.24).
Free to watch while you discreetly munch a macaroon: the glassblower working at his glowing oven two doors away at Callahan’s Firehouse, in the town’s former fire station.
Then we crossed the street to the cozy South Whidbey Commons, a combination coffee shop and used-book store that trains local young people in workplace skills, for a scan through a copy of “Orphans Preferred,” the story of the Pony Express, while sipping chai lattes ($3.15 each + tax = $6.85).
Running total for the day: $85.13
Going to the dogs
Fueled by chai and chocolate, we thought it time for a 15-minute drive across the island to stretch legs on the beach at Double Bluff Park, where we meandered among fanciful driftwood forts and looked out on a sweeping panorama of Puget Sound and the Olympics.
It’s also a place to see locals frolicking on the sand with dogs of every size and shape, since it’s a popular off-leash area.
Missing your dog back home? Before heading for the ferry, make a final stop at Spoiled Dog Winery, where your designated driver can pat and coo over the two resident spoiled (and adorable) Australian shepherds, Blue and (puppy) Brix, while the travel companion warms up with a final tasting of the local wine. Get there at the right time of year and they might have some of their delicious estate-grown pinot noir, which tends to sell out (proving it’s not just an Oregon wine). 5881 Maxwelton Road, spoileddogwinery.com. Tasting fee $8 + tax = $8.70.
All that’s left is the cost of your ride. If you get 32 miles per gallon (based on highway mileage for a Subaru Forester, one of Seattle’s best-selling cars) and you pay $2.25 a gallon, the round-trip fuel bill from Seattle should be about $6.
Grand total for your day’s outing for two: $99.83, plus tips where appropriate.
There you have it. A full day of out-of-town frolics for less than you might spend for a fancy dinner on a Friday night in the city. Happy travels.
If you go
From Mukilteo, Washington State Ferries sails for Clinton on Whidbey Island every half-hour during daylight hours. The crossing is about 20 minutes. wsdot.wa.gov/ferries
From Clinton, go 6.3 miles to Langley via state Highway 525 and Langley Road; follow signs.
Show the love
Tips, discretionary by definition, aren’t included in this accounting. But budget travelers should keep in mind that service workers like to take little trips now and then, too. Keep some extra bucks in your pocket to show appreciation at the tip jar.
Langley Chamber of Commerce, at visitlangley.com, has lodging ideas, too, if you decide to stay over.